108: Pinball Revived

Pinball Revived

"Pinball fans aren't quite like gamers. They're techie, true, but in a solder-and-solenoid way. They're generally older and have a longer sense of history. Hearing the phrase 'penny arcade,' you and I think automatically of Gabe and Tycho, but pinball scholars maintain exhaustive histories of actual penny arcades.

"That said, the relationship between pinball and videogames is deep and venerable."

Allen Varney gets to know the ball-bound ancestor of the video game.

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Ah, very nice article! I think there's kind of a reputation among the most recent class of hipster gamers that pinball "sucks." They could stand to be taught otherwise.

You missed a couple of my favorite pinball simulations. Long before Visual Pinball, Rare Ltd. made a couple of video recreations of real-world pinball machines for the NES, Pin-Bot and High Speed. Although both games can't resist adding impossible elements to the game (which usually weakens video pinball irreparably), at least the changes they chose to make were awesome ones. Pin-Bot will change the balls from spheres to various shapes!

It's also interesting to note that the arcade at the Santa Monica Pier, the site of this year's E3, had a goodly number of pinball machines of all kinds. I'm not sure they were lovingly curated, as Allen suggests (the left flipper of Star Wars Episode 1 was pretty far gone), but they were playable, and they were fun.

The pinball game mechanics are old.
I regret that no real mod got created, to change those core rules, the main one, and the one that I hate above anything else, being that you can loose your ball because of sheer bad luck, and that's all. You can whine as much as you want, that's not going to change anything. You've lost a ball.

There's also the fact that I hated with a passion the 2D pinball games with vertical scrolling.
It made me eyes bleed.
Now that we got 3D based pinball games, with a better perspective, and eventually - but I haven't checked - a camera that may slightly move forward or backward, over the playfield, depending on where your balls are (...), this could change things.

But really, the only thing that would make me return to pinball would be if you could precisely avoid, through strategy, logic or sheer reflexes, the ill-fated loss of a ball rushing straight into the side paths, or falling between the two flippers.

Besides, do virtual pinballs use analogic controls? The gamepads on the PS3 and Xbox 360 would be perfect to control the flippers on each side.

That's my take on it. The loss of a ball should have little to do with badluck. And no tilt excuse, please.

I think the only excuse someone might offer is that a skilled player would never get into the situation of having a ball fall between the flippers. Much like a skilled pool player would not make a shot which caused them to scratch.

That someone, is not me, but I theorize there are individuals out there with enough skill to make the claim. Any pinball wizards? Anyone?

Geoffrey42:
I think the only excuse someone might offer is that a skilled player would never get into the situation of having a ball fall between the flippers. Much like a skilled pool player would not make a shot which caused them to scratch.

That someone, is not me, but I theorize there are individuals out there with enough skill to make the claim. Any pinball wizards? Anyone?

I don't buy it. I've seen pinballs with bumpers stuck in such a way that they looked precisely made to make the ball go down the flush.
I think they need to get out of that cash mentality where the structure is purposely devised to make the client loose cash.

It's like you play an arcade shooter, and reach the levels where the difficulty is simply stupidly too high.

Just make them more casual. Of course, purists will shout and laugh at this, but why should I care about what they think? Everyone should have the chances to play pinball with rules slightly different than those they like.

Again, with the bumpers (and honestly, the only table I've gotten to know well is the one that comes with WinXP *snicker*) there are ones which lead directly to your doom, or have a high doom-likeliness. Your job would be to avoid those. Also, a skilled player would pick up as many free balls/extra balls/replays, etc, to balance any strokes of bad luck which broke a point streak. Depends on the machine of course.

As far as the cash mentality, what I was reminded of talking about pinball is how, now, whenever I DO see a real pinball machine, I avoid it. 99% of the time, and 100% of the time in the last few years, the table has its front balancing feet screwed all the way in, and the rear balancing feet screwed all the way out. The table plays very fast, and the ball, half the time, drops straight down the middle. There was a time when those feet were actually used to level the machine, so that the carefully planned physics of the designers worked like they're supposed to, but not anymore... They might as well turn it on end, and call it a slot machine. You put in a quarter (or 50 cents, or whatever outrageous price they want), and it makes pretty lights, and then nothing happens. Absolutely a crime against humanity.

Well, inspired by the article, my fiance and I gave Pinball FX a try on Xbox Live Arcade over the weekend, and I have to say that it's really a phenomenal game. I grew up playing pinball fairly regularly (my mom was a fanatic of sorts - I remember the day we surprised her with her own pinball machine, a birthday present, which is still in her basement) and was surprised to find the physics so spot on. The last virtual pinball games I played were the one that shipped with Windows, and Pinball on the NES.

Although the article mentions the title specifically in relation to the use of the camera as a control method, I don't have one, and didn't even notice that feature; The two analog triggers on the gamepad controlled the flippers very naturally. There are several camera modes, including a few that follow the ball as it moves through the table. I was most impressed with the use of the gamepad rumble though - it really makes it feel like you're holding a table, with the flippers and ball shaking you every time they impact.

I just hope there's more tables on the way :)

 

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